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Austin ISD students start returning to campus after winter break; most extracurricular activities suspended

The decision comes after questions from community members and parents about the district's plans following winter break.

AUSTIN, Texas — In an email to parents Thursday morning, Austin ISD's superintendent announced the district will reopen its campuses the week of Jan. 4 following the winter break but will suspend all extracurricular activities except for varsity sports.

Dr. Stephanie Elizalde said in addition to on-campus instruction, remote instruction will also continue to be offered for students who choose it. 

RELATED: Education Austin files 127 grievances against AISD to overturn medical accommodation denials

In the event of a surge of COVID-19 cases at any of the district's campuses or facilities, Dr. Elizalde said the district will close them if necessary.

The decision comes after Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott's recommendation on Dec. 29 that middle schools and high schools move to virtual learning for two weeks following winter break "to reduce the community risk and to reduce the risk of transmission within the school system." 

RELATED: Middle, high schools in Austin-Travis County recommended to go remote for 2 weeks after winter break

For the following schools, the first day of classes after winter break was Jan. 5:

High schools:
Akins ECHS, Navarro ECHS & Navarro GPA and Northeast ECHS

Middle schools:
Burnet, Dobie, Paredes and Webb

Elementary schools:
Barrington, Blazier, TA Brown/Webb Primary, Casey, Cook, Graham, Guerrero Thompson, Hart, Kocurek, Langford, McBee, Menchaca, Padrón, Palm, Perez, Pickle, Walnut Creek, Winn, Wooldridge and Wooten

Special campus:
ALC and Garza

The following schools designated Jan. 5 as a student holiday, meaning the first day of classes after winter break is Jan. 6:

High schools:
Anderson, Ann Richards School, Austin, Bowie, Crockett ECHS, Eastside Memorial ECHS & International, LASA, LBJ ECHS, McCallum, Travis ECHS and Travis GPA

Middle schools:
Ann Richards School, Bailey, Bedichek, Covington, Garcia YMLA, Gorzycki, Kealing, Lamar, Sarah Lively, Martin, Mendez, Murchison, O. Henry, Sadler Means YWLA and Small

Elementary schools:
Allison, Andrews, Baldwin, Baranoff, Barton Hills, Bear Creek, Becker, Blackshear, Blanton, Boone, Brentwood, Bryker Woods, Campbell, Casis, Clayton, Cowan, Cunningham, Davis, Dawson, Doss, Galindo, Govalle, Gullett, Harris, Highland Park, Hill, Houston, Jordan, Joslin, Kiker, Lee, Linder, Maplewood, Mathews, Metz-Sánchez, Mills, Norman-Sims, Oak Hill, Oak Springs, Odom, Ortega, Overton, Patton, Pecan Springs, Pillow, Pleasant Hill, Reilly, Ridgetop, Rodriguez, St. Elmo, Summitt, Sunset Valley, Travis Heights, Uphaus ECC, Widén, Williams, Zavala and Zilker

Special campus:
Rosedale School

Since Sept. 8, a total of 205 AISD students and 258 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the district's online dashboard.

During a press conference Thursday, Dr. Elizalde said a percentage of their school nurses have been vaccinated because they are first responders. She said the district is trying to work with Ascension Seton Medical Center to get school nurses trained to administer the COVID-19 vaccine to other school staff members. She also asked for the state to move teachers to group 1B, which will allow them to get vaccinated sooner.

You can read Dr. Elizalde's letter in full below:

Good morning, Austin ISD family,

First, I hope you have had an opportunity to rest and relax during this winter break, and most importantly that you have remained safe and healthy.

I’m writing to confirm that next week we will resume operations as planned for Spring 2021 with the exception of extracurricular activities. Only varsity sports will continue. All other extracurricular activities will be suspended.

As an essential service, Austin ISD will resume on-campus instruction for those who choose it the week of January 4. We will also continue to offer remote instruction for families for the remainder of the school year. And, if a family wants to transition their children from on-campus to remote instruction, we will make the change upon request.

Please know that safety continues to be our top priority. If there is a surge in cases at any of our campuses or facilities, we can and will close as the need arises. As a reminder, COVID-19 Rapid Testing is available at every Austin ISD campus for staff and students. And, we will continue to be vigilant in asking students and staff to complete the COVID screening daily as well as monitoring cases and doing contact tracing.

We will be taking advantage of the TEA’s allowance to offer asynchronous learning. In Austin ISD all learning activities will be virtual on the following Fridays: Jan. 29, Feb. 26, March 5 and April 9. Please take a moment to mark these dates on your calendars.

Lastly, we are thankful that this week Austin City Council and Austin Public Health confirmed that they will continue funding caregiver meals through September 2021.

As always, thank you to our students, families, staff and the entire Austin community for your flexibility, understanding and grace during this time.

Happy New Year,

Stephanie S. Elizalde, Ed.D.
Superintendent
Austin ISD

Education Austin, the union for AISD employees, released the following statement regarding the superintendent's announcement to reopen campuses:

"We are extremely disappointed and object in the strongest terms to the superintendent’s decision to reopen schools next week. It is clear that these are abnormal, extraordinary times. All of us—our members, students, parents, and the community—want our schools open and a return to normal. But we also understand that safety is THE top priority, something that AISD is only willing to give lip service to. Our city is at Stage 5, currently looking at a shortage of ICU beds, and enforcing a curfew for restaurants and bars. Our employees are not getting prioritized for vaccines in time for reopening. This is no time for business as usual. Remember the refrain that “AISD has heart”? Now it seems like they simply do not care how many staff, students, and families get sick. The superintendent is actively contributing to unsafe conditions and risking people’s lives. We call on members of the AISD Board of Trustees to right the ship, and exercise all available power to delay reopening schools until it is safe to do so. We will continue to work toward that end and fight the good fight. We also call on the superintendent, legislators, and the governor to prioritize all school employees when distributing the vaccine. If we want to reopen schools, vaccinate our employees. Don’t treat them like essential workers without providing protections!"

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